Friday, 17 October 2014

Bossiness with bite - the truth of anti-social behaviour legislation


Isabel Hardman sums up a big problem with modern politics. Put simply:

There are plenty of irritations of everyday life that government could, if satisfying the call of ‘Something Must Be Done’ always led to good policy, deal with. For instance, legislation to force people to move all the way down a packed Tube carriage. Or a judge-led inquiry into why Topshop at Oxford Circus feels a bit like an Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Or an Act of Parliament banning January and all its horrid cold wet weather.

I could continue - adding perhaps something to enforce good escalator etiquette (entirely unknown outside London) or maybe the wearing of baseball caps back-to-front and trousers at half-mast. You, I sure, will have your own gripes and grumbles about modern life and might welcome action to deal with whatever it is that gets your goat.

But while you're thinking about this remember that successive governments have built up an idea called "anti-social behaviour", and have created the means for police and local councils to take action to "clamp down" on such behaviour. The most recent iteration of this campaign is set out here - it essentially defines almost any behaviour cops and councillors decide they don't like as anti-social behaviour. And, as you already know the purpose of anti-social behaviour (or ASB, as those in the know refer to it) legislation is to create a means whereby the police can make something that isn't a crime into a crime.

The problem with modern politics - and we caught a ghastly glimpse of this with Boris's healthy city ideas (although I note the blonde one backpedalled on banning smoking in parks) - is that we do exactly what Ms Hardman illustrates, we respond when someone (usually from a charity or a think tank but sometimes someone who has suffered one of modern life's misfortunes) cries 'something must be done'. The result is laws we don't need but that act to provide the ability for public authorities to boss us about a little more. And, it goes without saying, give those police, border guards, PCSOs, council wardens and so forth the powers to force us on pain of arrest or punishment to comply precisely with that bossiness.


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